Cursed with a history of tragedy and faded glory, the Immortal Principality of Ustalav clings to its legendary past even as it struggles to forget centuries of horrors. From the fog-shrouded cliffs of Lake Encarthan to the tangled maze of the Shudderwood, the fractious nation bears an infamous reputation as a place of birth and rebirth for tyrants.
In the Age of Enthronement, the blade of the legendary hero Soividia Ustav drove the brutal Kellid tribes and their heritage of obscene magic from the lands surrounding the Hungry Mountains, and claimed the region as a new homeland for his wandering people. In victory, the warlord divided his nation between his lieutenants and allies, creating holdings befitting the deeds and merit of their
ancient families. For more than 500 years, the newly risen Kingdom of Ustalav followed the horned crown of the Ustav line, yet as generations passed, the clannish Varisians quarreled endlessly over territory, familial rights, and the honor of long-dead ancestors. In the face of civil war, King
Kaldemov divided the nation into 16 counties, formally establishing the domains of the land’s most inf luential families and granting them broad administrative powers, so long as they remained loyal to and met the demands of the crown. The country enjoyed several brief centuries of peace after its division—a never-reclaimed golden age in its tormented past. Unknown to the rulers of the nation, though, Ustalav was a poisoned land, tainted by the immortal remains of the wicked warlord Tar-Baphon, who, in 3203 ar, resurrected as the vile lich-king known as the Whispering Tyrant. Raising orc hordes from the brutal lands of Belkzen and calling upon legions of the ancient dead, the lichking unleashed his vicious military and arcane genius upon the unprepared lands of Ustalav, besieging the nation from without and from within. While the people waged a desperate defense, every fallen soldier bolstered
the strength of the undead ranks, and by 3206, Ustalav was a realm dominated by the dead. For more than 600 years, the Whispering Tyrant ruled an empire of abominations rooted in the country’s corpse. When the Shining Crusade at last succeeded in imprisoning the dreaded immortal within his fortress of Gallowspire, the victorious knights freed the lich’s living slaves and returned the principality’s shattered counties to the few beleaguered survivors. Reestablished and rechristened as the Immortal
Principality of Ustalav, the country readopted the majority of the laws and systems of its near-legendary past. But, with the line of Soividia Ustav long broken, the crown came to rest with families claiming at best tenuous ties to the ancient hero—resulting in an era of slow recovery, infighting, and weak rulers. The land too had changed, as had the creatures afoot in those reaches. Although the Whispering Tyrant had been defeated, his minions proved subtle and unnaturally patient, hiding themselves amid the darkest shadows and haunting ruins left in the wake of an age of anguish.
Forgotten enemies of Ustalav also prowled from the shadows once more—beasts thought to be mere legends and the unquiet spirits of slaughtered Kellid ritualists. And in the earth, waters, and skies, old things roused by the Tyrant’s might stirred and cast unfathomable attentions upon an unsuspecting people. Although the past generations have seen the repopulation of Ustalav and its rise as a hub of civilization on the oftensavage northern shores of Lake Encarthan, the scars of death’s grip still linger. Deadly orc raiders, savage barbarians, and merciless zealots array themselves beyond the borders, while within deadly creatures, shadowy conspiracies, and unnatural beings stalk the nights and nightmares of the country’s populace. These circumstances have bred a suspicious people ruled by ageless superstitions, strict cultural traditions, and grim faith. Even as fearful rumors and blind prejudice pass for fact throughout much of the realm, many seek out reason in the darkness, leading
to the rise of numerous centers of art, faith, and learning. Yet Ustalav endlessly proves itself a land covetous of its secrets and inhospitable to change, and many who gaze into its shadows are themselves consumed. Within the past 40 years, Ustalav has suffered continued upheaval, from regime changes forcing capitals to shift to scandals of lineage to coups both bloodless and otherwise.
Although Prince Aduard Ordranti III rules as Ustalav’s sovereign, his will is far from the only one that directs the fate of his nation. In the west, the three Palatinates assemble local councils of the region’s wisest and most inf luential, even though their frequently-changing representatives hold depressingly little sway in meetings of the royal court. The counts of the realm’s heartland hold the most immediate and forceful inf luence over the nation and its people. Able to act without oversight or reprisal, Ustalav’s ruling families have each transformed their corner of the nation as befits their ambitions or their petty vices. Although each count is sworn to serve the throne, generations of courtly manipulations, incomprehensible laws, concessions, and exceptions bind even the Prince’s hands against interference in all but the most outrageous county edicts.
Ustalav’s counties are divided into three distinct regions— Soivoda, the Palatinates, and Virlych.
Dominating the entire eastern half of the country, the lands of Soivoda have not weathered time and tragedy with uniform grace.
Amaans: A land of mist-shrouded valleys and jagged mountains, Amaans lies in the shadow of menace. The county’s relatively few residents largely occupy the lands around Lake Kavapesta, huddled near the border with civilized Ardeal. From their lowland homes, they spread ancient tales of the Hundred Haunted Vales of the Hungry Mountains, and of the strange whispers and hunting dead that stalk the Ghorcha Passage.
Ardeal: Historic home of Soividia Ustav, site of the former capital, and the supposed heart of Ustalav, Ardeal’s glory has faded. For centuries, Ardis was the home of authors, poets, craftsmen, princes, and the Ustalavic elite. Now, however, the county is a place of baseless arrogance and
fading memories, its splendors living only in memories and the grim half-fictions of aging authors like Ailson Kindler, whose gothic romances are among the most widely read and best-loved tales throughout the Inner Sea region.
Barstoi: Among the jagged hills, rocky fields, and salt mines of Barstoi live suspicious but hardworking people. Although widely held to be an unfriendly place, the county is perhaps the best managed in all Ustalav. Its people are well fed, its militias are finely trained, life brings with
it rewards equal to one’s toil, and all crimes are lethally punished by stern Pharasmin inquisitors and blackarmored soldiers.
Caliphas: The soul of Ustalav has long been its largest city, the foggy, newly crowned capital of Caliphas. Trade across Lake Encarthan brings substantial wealth to the city’s noblesse, but also vast crowds amid which frequent disappearances go largely unnoticed. Away from the shore, rural Caliphas retains much of its provincial charm, with numerous small communities of artisans growing up around the Droa and Raiteso Rivers, where vineyards, perfumeries, and alabaster quarries all feed the growing
decadence of the cosmopolitan south.
The Furrows: In 4689, Barstoi dragged Ardeal and Varno into the civil war known as the War without Rivals. The struggle for possession of the Dragosvet Plains turned into 4 years of grim, futile trench warfare, with hundreds dying over mere yards of land. In the end, Count Neska conceded and recalled his armies to Barstoi, although not without issuing orders to burn and salt every inch of abandoned
land. The countryside once known as Furcina is now the Furrows—a dead plain riddled with mazes of trenches and haunted by the disillusioned ghosts of wasted lives.
Odranto: The guardianship of northern Ustalav has traditionally fallen to the counts of Odranto. Centuries of skirmishes that forced the savage Kellids north of the River Moutray have left their mark on the county, dotting the region with the remains of architecturally varied castles. While soldiers still guard some, the people largely avoid the land’s forsaken fortresses, with tales of House Beumhal, the Ground of Lost Tears, and the dreaded Castle Kronquist serving as warnings of cursed ancestries and foul deeds.
Sinaria: In a land of cold swamps and moss-draped woodlands, the people of Sinaria live off what little fertile planting ground surrounds Lake Prophyria. The bounties of these plantations funnel into Karcau, a vibrant light in the heart of a dark wilderness. Known for the widely respected Karcau Opera, the island-f lecked Village of Voices has a tradition of musical genius. Built on the site of
a vast underground lake, the city stands upon a labyrinth of submerged tunnels and underground channels.
Ulcazar: The smallest of Ustalav’s counties, Ulcazar claims the highest peaks of the Hungry Mountains. Aside from a few scattered hermits and hunters, few people make their home amid the inhospitable mountains. High amid the peaks stands the little-known Monastery of the Veil,
the home of a mysterious brotherhood of silent monks.
Varno: The close-knit people of Varno f lourish in a land of scattered lakes and dense forests. The county’s land and weather often prove fickle, and years of famine might follow several seasons of bounty, souring the people against even their closet friends.
Versex: With much of its land poorly suited to farming, the people of Versex largely survive by mining and plying the rough waves of Avalon Bay. Away from the bustling town of Thrushmoor, numerous secluded communities of clannish, suspicious folk dot the Versex coast and highlands. Of particular strangeness are Carrion Hill, a city built upon an ancient mound and its own sprawling slums, and Illmarsh, where quarrelsome clans of fisher folk treat with strange shadows in the deep.
In 4670, the county of Lozeri shrugged off control of its regional count, embracing rule by a council of politically savvy citizens after a series of relatively bloodless coups. Quickly acknowledged by the disinterested Prince Valislav, Lozeri, Vieland, and the refounded county of Canterwall became known as the Palatinates.
Canterwall: The breadbasket of Ustalav, Canterwall grows nearly half of the crops that feed the country, a fact that figured strongly in its royal release from hereditary rule. Since the country’s founding, this land has defended the border with Belkzen and, more recently, the haunted mountains of Virlych. In past years, however, several hamlets in Canterwall have been deserted without explanation, the people seemingly swallowed up by the mists.
Lozeri: Ruled by a collective of well-to-do but just-lessthan- noble citizens, this county caters to the aff luent with elaborate hunts. The everyday citizen of Lozeri sees little difference between the rule of the deposed Count Beauturne and the new council, and many complain that at least the count kept the woods’ outskirts safe. In recent years, rumors of the Devil in Gray, a creature of varying
size and description according to conf licting reports, have haunted the woods, terrifying the populace while being disregarded by Courtaud’s ruling council.
Vieland: When Lozeri denounced Count Beauturne, the astute Count Caromarc of Vieland recognized the
changes in the wind and stepped down as ruler, retiring to his secluded manor in the Dippelmere swamp, north of Lepidstadt. Life in Vieland has largely gone unchanged since Caromarc’s resignation.
Ustalav fell over 1,500 years ago—the first casualty of the legendary Whispering Tyrant’s return. Although the tyrant’s defeat in 3827 freed the country back to its historic rule, generations of genocide and tragedy left Virlych a crippled, accursed land. Virlych surrounds Gallowspire, the prison of the Whispering Tyrant. A pinnacle of jagged black stone and rent iron, the sealed fortress holds the remains of the immortal lich lord, locked away where they can supposedly do no harm. The lands surrounding the accursed tower—formerly the counties known as Virholt and Grodlych—are lifeless and haunted, seemingly poisoned by Gallowspire’s very presence. No sane folk live in Virlych, rightly
avoiding a land wracked by unnatural storms, choked with blighted plants, and stalked by tales of
unquiet dead. Only seasonal patrols from neighboring Lastwall traverse the region with any regularity, keeping a centuries-old watch over the immortal tyrant’s throne. Yet, for all the dread the region inspires, Virlych endlessly fascinates explorers and arcanists eager to uncover secrets of the Whispering Tyrant’s dark age, perpetuating the tales of horror that f low from such remnants as the
bladed cathedral at Renchurch; Ghasterhall, the Palace of Travesties; and the Garden of Lead.
Source: The Inner Sea World Guide page 190-193